Internet and software development tools and strategies for developers and VARsIE 5.0 stakes out new turfby Carol SliwaFRAMINGHAM - Microsoft last week posted a developer preview of Internet Explorer 5.0 featuring new technologies designed to assist Web developers. But the preview release uses non-standard extensions that will only work in Microsoft's browser.
Rival Netscape, which is expected to announce an updated version of its Communicator 4.0 GroupWare client/browser, indicated it has no intention of fighting this latest version of the browser wars.
"What developers keep telling us is that you have to get everything standardised because we're not going to write to two browsers," said Eric Behn, a Netscape product manager.
Microsoft defended its use of the nonstandard technology, saying it has submitted the new elements to appropriate standards bodies for consideration. But there is no assurance the groups will adopt Microsoft's technologies. One such group, the World Wide Web Consortium, said it hasn't yet accepted Microsoft's new technologies as proposed standards.
New elements in Internet Explorer 5.0 include:
Dynamic Hypertext Markup Language behaviours that let developers build reusable scripts that Web pages can referenceDynamic properties, which let developers define the values of a Web page element relative to any other element on the pageSupport for multiple cascading-style sheet classes, which makes it easier for a developer to let different actions occur on the same Web page element.
Developers now have three choices: build Web pages geared towards Microsoft's new tech- nology, create pages for Netscape's browser or focus on least-common-denominator sites that will work in both browsers.
"Companies that implement the least-common-denominator approach will leave themselves exposed to companies that bend over backwards to provide a great user experience using the latest bells and whistles for each browser," warned Tim Sloane, an Aberdeen Group analyst.
But others said business-minded Web sites would be well advised to take the least-common-denominator approach so anyone can access their pages.
Microsoft polishes Chrome
by Bob Trott
SAN MATEO - Microsoft is ramping up efforts to woo developers with beta 2 of its interactive media graphics tool, code-named Chrome, and the release of the developer-focused preview of Internet Explorer 5.0.
Chrome aims to let developers add multimedia features to HTML by exposing DirectX to HTML authors. To begin with, the technology will prob-ably be available as an add-in feature to Windows 98 and future versions of Windows NT.
The result, according to Microsoft, will be media integration, high-fidelity graphics, more interactive capabilities, streaming and hardware acceleration.
Microsoft recommends heavy-duty systems to run Chrome: Pentium II, 300MHz or faster, 10MHz bus, 4Mb of video memory, 64Mb of RAM, and digital videodisc capability.
"The initial PCs that will run the Chrome feature of Windows 98 are going to be 350MHz Pentium boxes," said Brad Chase, vice president of Windows Marketing and Developer Relations.
Using Chrome, Extensible Markup Language, VBScript, JScript, C++ and other tools and formats, developers will be able to build animated 3D effects much smaller than a comparable GIF file. Microsoft will ship a software developer's kit for Chrome in July.
Seagate to update OLAP tool
by Tom Allen and Paul Krill
SYDNEY - Seagate Software plans to announce the availability of Seagate Holos 7, a new version of the company's decision-support application development environment that adds support to Microsoft's upcoming online analytical processing (OLAP) software.
Version 7 features the ability to build applications that access multi-dimensional and relational data. A single "virtual OLAP" cube can be created that combines data from Microsoft's upcoming OLAP server, code-named Plato, as well as from Arbor Essbase and Holos' own OLAP data sources.
According to Janine Crawford, Seagate Software's marketing communications manager: "Seagate Holos 7's redesigned development environment and open architecture allows consultants and systems integrators to offer powerful data mining, OLAP, and reporting applications for a broad range of technology infrastructures.
"Seagate Holos 7 is ideal for consultants building business modelling and performance management applications such as balanced scorecards or financial reporting and consolidation."
The product will be available on Windows and Unix servers.
Pricing is not yet available.
Consortium to clean up customer relations for financiersFRAMINGHAM - Customer relationship management, or CRM, comprises programs that help a company attract and retain customers. The programs range from the simple - knowing a customer's birthday and sending a card at the right time - to the complex, which might include alerting a company when there are signs of a customer closing their account.
The data that allows a company to manage customer relations usually sits on multiple databases and may not be integrated.
"These firms have the data on you. They're just not smart enough to use it," said Karen Takoushian, vice president of sales at Digital.
Digital - along with US vendors Cogit Corporation, Exchange Applications, Norbert Technologies, and Profit Management Group - have formed the "Centre of Excellence".
The group claims the centre will help companies cut costs and time involved in using such customer data. The centre will collect all the customer data from a financial institution, clean it, compress it and analyse it for a company. by Patrick ThibodeauNew Visual Basic offering promises increased database supportby Jon CornettoSAN MATEO - Microsoft revealed another piece of the Visual Studio 6.0 development system puzzle last week, when it introduced Visual Basic 6.0, its rapid application development (RAD) tool.
This release builds in more support for distributed application development, with new Web development tools, expanded data access capabilities, and tighter integration with other Visual Studio tools.
Microsoft answered critics of previous releases by including optimised support for databases other than SQL Server databases. Version 6.0 lets developers create and modify Oracle 7.3.3 and AS/400 databases.
"Microsoft finally realised that SQL Server is not competing, in a lot of cases, with Oracle," said Phil Costa, a Giga Information Group analyst.
Improved interoperability among Visual Studio components is the most significant improvement to developers, said Boyd Nolan, lead engineer at Boeing Aerospace, which is redeploying all of its systems over the Web.
"All the data services we provide on our Web service were written in Visual Basic, allowing us to integrate data from purchasing to inventory, very easily," Nolan said.
New tools also make it faster and easier to develop applications that will be deployed via the Internet and corporate intranets.
Visual Basic developers can now develop server-side applications that will work with any Web browser on any platform, with its new WebClass Designer.
Additionally, developers can develop Dynamic HTML (DHTML) pages with an integrated wysiwyg editor. These tools cut out Microsoft competitor Sun Microsystems' Java product.
"I wouldn't go as far as to say 'never use Java on a Web page', which is implicitly what Microsoft is saying here," said Mike Gilpin, vice president at Giga Information Group. "But many pages can be more easily done with DHTML from within the familiar Visual Basic environment."
Version 6.0 also will make delivery and creation of Component Object Model (COM) components more accessible to developers.
"It's been just too hard to create COM components. Visual Basic addresses this problem," Gilpin said.
Chris Flores, Visual Basic product manager in the US, said Version 6.0 will also support some of the features of COM+, Microsoft's forthcoming component model.
Microsoft officials said Visual Basic will be available in the next few months, with its final release to come in September with the release of Visual Studio 6.0.
Prices for the Learning, Standard, and Enterprise editions will remain about the same as prices for Version 5, according to company officials.
Informatica boosts Meta-Data management
by Paul Krill
SAN MATEO - Data-warehouse software vendor Informatica is hoping to win a bigger slice of the meta-data management tools market with the release of PowerMart Version 4.5.
The third quarter release of its flagship product will support tracking of meta data, or infor-mation about the origin of data, from multidimensional cubes. These cubes are used for analysis applications. The meta data will be details about factors such as time and geographical dimensions, as well as definitions of cube structures.
Informatica will support multidimensional meta data in its new Metadata Exchange Architecture (MX2) component, to be introduced as part of the new version of PowerMart.
It features a data-extraction and transformation engine and has been supported on Unix and Windows NT platforms.
Meta data is stored in PowerMart's repository. MX2, which has an API for meta-data exchange, and supports meta- data extraction from third-party online analytical processing (OLAP) and business intelligence tools such as the Arbor Essbase OLAP engine. Without this API support, multidimensional meta data must be tracked manually, through rekeying of data. A PowerMart user said he is considering using MX2 technology to automatically generate intelligence reports via the PowerMart repository.
"Because the definition of the [data] table is already there, we're looking at being able to generate some of the Brio query reports directly using the repository-based information," said Patrick Nolan, data-warehousing engineering director at Stanford University.
Adding multidimensional data support adds definition to the repository, he said.
Multidimensional meta data is becoming more important as the marketplace focuses on analysis applications.
Informatica's plan to support multidimensional meta-data extraction addresses a weakness in the marketplace, an analyst said.
Informatica hopes to position its meta-data API as a way to bridge competing data-warehouse repository efforts planned by Oracle and Microsoft.
ERP Domino effect hits Lotus
by Dana Gardner and Naomi Jackson
Sydney - Lotus is again hyping up the next release of its flagship Domino product, announcing a swag of new features expected during the next 12 months.
With Domino 5.0 planned for release by the end of the year, Lotus is moving to improve connectivity with databases, transaction systems, and enterprise resource planning (ERP) applications in a bid to expand Domino's role to that of a Web application server.
According to Peter Taylor, Lotus' managing director for Australia and New Zealand, the company is integrating the broad, real-time accessing capabilities of the NotesPump product from Lotus Notes into Domino to allow developers to build applications that can source data housed within and external to Domino.
Lotus' ERP push has already commenced with the development of Lotuscript extensions for SAP's products and, according to Taylor, "it is reasonable to assume that it will be done for the remainder of ERP vendors too".
New features to come
He claims the ERP enhancements are part of the company's strategy to improve Domino's support for interactive Web applications.
In addition to boosting the server from an Internet perspective, Taylor said Lotus' decision to separate the Domino client more from the server will allow users to access their messaging server of choice.
Meanwhile, Lotus has turned to its parent IBM for directory interoperability and new availability services included in Domino 5.0.
According to Rick Mayo, IBM's US-based Directory Services business manager, Domino 5.0 will ship with IBM's Avail- ability Services clustering and replication technology.
Drop me a line
ARN's Developer Solutions section is designed to keep software developers and VARs informed about the latest in Internet and software development tools. Drop me a line at Tom Allen@idg.com.au with any news leads you would like followed up or opinions you feel are important to this sector of the channel.